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White willow, a light, breezy willow to line riverbeds and lakes

White willow branch with catkins against a silver body of water

White willow is certainly less famous than its cousin the weeping willow. However, its foliage and silhouette also make it a very interesting option.

Key white willow facts  –

Botanical nameSalix alba
Common names – white willow, silver willow, golden willow
Family – Salicaceae
Type – Tree
Foliage – deciduous

Bearing – columnar, wider at the top than at the bottom
Height – 50 to 65 feet (15 to 20 meters)
Breadth – 40 feet (12 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – any type
Hardiness – hardy

Growth – fast
– spring

White willow, an introduction

Salix alba is a willow species that has a rounded, spreading crown. Its foliage is lanceolate and a silvery-gray color. The blooming occurs at the beginning of spring, and leaves unfurl at the same time. The flowers are catkins that are either male or female, both being a greenish yellow color.

Catkins of a white willow tree

Britzensis white willow variety, always pruned back shortWhite willow is one of the main sources for making wicker baskets, and some varieties have surprising ornamental bark that stands out in winter. Two examples: ‘Britzensis’, shown here, has bright red wood and Salix alba var. vitellina has a nearly golden-colored bark.

Planting Salix alba

White willow isn’t a difficult tree to please. As a matter of fact, it copes well with any type of soil, adapts to any soil pH, and loves full sun.

The only critical factor that matters is soil moisture: the ground must always be moist or wet to some degree.

When to plant it?

As is common in the tree and shrub world, the best season to plant white willow is the beginning of fall, if possible, when the weather gets wetter again.

Nonetheless, it’s still perfectly fine to plant in spring, but this isn’t recommended since you’ll have to water a lot more: not good to save on water, and not so great for the environment, either.

How to plant white willow?

  • Planting white willow in the groundDig a short trench about 8 to 12 inches deep and wide (20 to 30 cm).
  • If you’ve bought a bare-root tree, you’ll have to prepare root dip. For specimens in containers, remove the pot and break the clump up a bit to make it easier to spread the roots out.
  • Settle your white willow in the hole, stake it near the trunk but take care not to wound the roots.
  • Backfill the trench and press the soil down well. Form the surface into a bowl shape to channel water inwards.
  • Tether the stake and trunk with a staking band, wrought into a figure 8.
  • Water abundantly.
  • More planting tips and tricks: how to plant a tree or shrub

To lock moisture in the soil, especially during the summertime, do go ahead and lather a thick layer of plant-based mulch, all around the base of your tree.

Caring for white willow


Pollarding is one of the ways to prune white willowPruning white willow is only necessary at the beginning of its growth, to structure your tree. After that, all you’ll need to do is remove dead branches and those that might become dangerous if they break off.

Pollarding, shown here, is another way of pruning it: cut branches back every 2 years.

Species and varieties with colorful bark, like the one featured higher in the article, often are brightest when they send out new shoots every year. Prune them like you would dogwoods with colorful bark.


Young stems make for the best cuttingsWillow is among the easiest trees to propagate, and white willow clearly follows that good will! To multiply your tree, go for cuttings from soft, new wood that you would collect at the end of summer, or even with hard wood cut from branches in winter.

As a general rule, simply sticking a stem with a few leaves in the soil is enough to trigger growth and get a new plant.

Diseases and pests:

White willow can, at times, be overrun by caterpillars and sap-suckers like aphids and scale insects.

As for diseases, fungus are usually the worst offenders: they form necrotic spots.

Proper care for white willow leads to beautiful bark and leaves

Uses in landscaping

Single large white willow near a lakeThe size and bearing of white willow predetermine its use: it does best in parks and large gardens. Grow it either as a standalone, or surround it with other majestic trees such as lime and eucryphia for instance.

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY-SA 2.0: Andreas Rockstein, Leonora Enking, Megan Hansen
CC BY 2.0: Pete Beard
Pixabay: Mabel Amber
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